Q: How is cheese made?
A: With hundreds of varieties, there's no one way to make cheese. But before you start making any kind, you have to choose the milk. Cheese from cow's milk is the most widely available in the United States and what most people are used to eating, but the milk of sheep, goat, buffalo and even soy can also be used to make a variety of cheeses. Next you need to know which cheese you'd like to make. And That's How You Make Cheese!: The Definitive Guide to Making and Aging the World's Best Cheese at Home! offers up this foodstuff's rich history with nearly 30 recipes for at-home cheese-making. The book will walk you through the process, from locating the necessary supplies and ingredients to preparing your own starter culture. Let's dumb down the process a bit to fit in this column. The first step is to add a starter culture to (or naturally sour) milk, and add to that a rennet coagulant, made from a calf's fourth stomach, or the ever-more-popular synthetic version made from vegetable sources. The milk will then begin to curdle. At the firm curd stage, remove the liquid whey so you're left with only the solid stuff. After a salting process, the soon-to-be cheese can be molded and pressed to drain and firm the curd. The cheese is then bandaged to dry. It's important to remember that the heating and cooling process and the time from start to finish varies among varieties. Making cheese yourself lets you control the ingredients and the use of additives, like stabilizers and emulsifiers, that are sometimes added to the cheese sold at your local supermarket. If the at-home cheese-making process doesn't interest you, but you'd like to learn more about cheese consistencies and varieties, check out the American Cheese Society's website at www.cheesesociety.org. ACS is dedicated to upholding the standards of American-made cheeses, not just American-invented ones. It offers information on the Federal Department of Agriculture's regulations for store-bought cheeses, as well as the proper way to store cheese--the high humidity of a refrigerator's vegetable drawer is the best place. For more on the mysteries of cheese-making, see "Say Cheese," p. 36.
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